Summary: Exploration of the 3 Matthean Parables on the Kingdom of Heaven, the challenge of parables, the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have heard it said that Heaven really must be a wonderful place, because no-one has yet come back to complain!
As active Christians, it is something which we think we have an idea about, it is certainly our goal and perhaps through the grace of God, it will be our reward also. But we do not properly know what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like: cartoon images abound of clouds and angels with halos and wings compete with pastoral images of rolling golf courses and big houses.
Christ spoke frequently of the kingdom of heaven and its relationship to this earth, but only obliquely described it in practical terms. It was far more important for him to outline the nature of heaven than its substance. For us, it is the nature of heaven which should be our concern, not the substance.
Thus, this pericope, or gobbet of scripture serves to bring together three explorations of the Kingdom of Heaven by likening it to something familiar to the people of the age. Three times in this reading he uses the phrase “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”
• Like a man who sowed good seed and had it ruined by an enemy
• Like a mustard seed which starts small and grows into something mighty
• Like yeast which moves through bread, levening it and transforming it
We should be careful not to overstep our understanding of these similes, for Christ does not say “The Kingdom of Heaven is”. We are not ready yet for what the kingdom actually is, and so it is revealed to us in language and concepts that we mere human beings can handle.
Each of these examples gives us a glimpse of an aspect of heaven, but without the full picture. Christ, who came from heaven to earth is the only one who is gifted with that full picture.
The parable of the Tares (the word for the weeds used in the authorised version) is for us an indication of future judgement. Throughout his ministry Christ strove to call to repentance rather than to condemn: to encourage inner change rather than to reject out-of-hand; to only spring to positive (and occasionally violent) action when faced with absolute evil in the form of the possessed or the desecrators of the Temple courts. The reason for his lack of condemnation is rooted less in Christ’s all-pervading forgiveness, but in the sure and certain knowledge that proper judgement will be upon us, and will be administered fairly. The parable we have before us, makes no gardening sense – in a farmer’s field, one should remove the poisonous darnel weeds before they take deep root and intermingle with the wheat. In the early stages of growth, darnel and wheat look similar, but the experienced worker could separate them. The owner’s response does not condemn the weeds immediately, but leaves it to the harvest time. He trusts in the judgement process, he trusts that no poison will be left to sour the entire harvest.
As frequently happens, Christ uses a parable, not because it is instantly recognised by the hearers, not in order to perpetuate the prejudices of the listeners, but to subvert their common understanding, to challenge the norm, to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.